It is now much more difficult than it used to be to open a bank account in mainland China. The days of walking into any bank with nothing but your passport and instantly getting an account opened are long gone.
Not only in China, but it seems like there is a global trend of increased difficulty opening bank accounts all over the world recently.
I always try to open as many bank accounts as I can in as many countries as possible. Especially if the minimum balance requirement and annual fees are low. With an annual fee of around 10-15 CNY and no minimum balance requirement, opening a bank account in China is always a good idea. I recommend opening as many accounts as you can if you plan to spend any significant amount of time in China.
It's always easier to keep an existing account open than it is to open a brand new account. And it's always better to have a bank account that you don't need than need one that you can't open.
In this case, it's still relatively easy to open a bank account in mainland China. You will just need to answer a few questions about where you work, live, and the purpose of opening the bank account.
Then the situation gets more complicated.
In addition your passport, you will also need the "registration form of temporary residence for visitors" that you get from the police station when you register where you are staying in China. When you stay in China, you are required to register at the nearest police station within 24 hours of entering the country.
If you are staying in a hotel, the hotel staff will register on your behalf and you will not normally get a copy of this registration form (I believe the registration is done electronically in this case). You can try asking the hotel to help you get a paper copy of the registration form. Some hotels may be able to do this, but I wouldn't count on it.
If you can't find a hotel that will help you out, you can find an Airbnb host that can get it for you (message the host first to make sure they can do it).
Once you get this document, then you will need to find a bank that will open an account for you.
Not all banks will open accounts for holders of tourist/business visas, even with the residence registration form. For example, I have heard that Bank of China will not do it under any circumstance.
I don't know the specific policy of every bank, but I would suggest that you try China Merchants Bank first. I have heard reports of people with tourist and business visas opening accounts recently. And it's my new favorite Chinese bank. I think they have the best service, and the best English app for mobile banking in China. The only drawback is that their ATMs are not very common so you will have to pay a few yuan to use other bank's ATMs most of the time.
Then it will be even more difficult for you because of FATCA. The American government requires banks worldwide to report information on American account holders. Most banks will not want to deal with you unless they think you have enough money to make it worth the extra hassle of dealing with FATCA reporting.
It's still possible, but it will be more difficult for you. You can thank your government for the extra hassle.
As with opening a bank account anywhere in the world these days, you will likely be asked this question.
What is the purpose of opening the account?
The purpose of them asking this question is to make sure you are not involved with money laundering or other illegal activities. Your ability to give a good answer to this question will often determine whether or not you are successful in opening the account.
If you have a legal job in China with the proper work visa, then it's easy to give a good reason for opening an account. Even if it's not the bank that your company will pay salary to, you can say that you prefer to keep your savings in their bank. Or you like their mobile app better. Any reason should suffice if you are legally employed in China.
If you have a tourist or business visa, then you need to give a good reason for needing a bank account in China when you don't earn money in China.
The reason given should be according to your individual situation, but here are some examples.
You want to use WeChat and AliPay for ride-sharing apps, food delivery, bike rental, etc.
You want to wire money to yourself from overseas to pay your living or other expenses in China.
You do not want the bank to think you are earning money in China if you don't have a work visa, so make sure that you explain how you support yourself in China while not earning money here.
If you are an American with a tourist or business visa then you better give an extremely compelling reason for opening the account.
If you get rejected at first, don't give up. Just try again at another bank (or even another branch of the same bank). Most banks have the discretion to open the account for you. Opening an account for a foreigner causes them a lot of extra paperwork, so sometimes they will just reject you simply because they don't want to do it (especially in the smaller branches).
Just keep trying, you will succeed eventually. Patience is persistence is key here.
You may also want to mention that you are interested in some of their "wealth management" products, or opening a VIP account (if you have 50k CNY or more to deposit). This will give the bank more incentive to have you as a customer.
If you have recently opened a bank account in China, please leave a comment below about your experience.